With the launch of Operation Protective Edge the IDF is striking a growing number of targets in Gaza and has begun calling up thousands of reservists. The government authorized the army to call up 40,000 total reservists while the prime minister reportedly instructed the IDF to be ready “to go to the end.”
Yet Protective Edge has also been described as having limited goals, making it similar to its predecessors, Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead.
Before Operation Protective Edge began, IDF officials told the media that the message to Hamas was that “quiet will be answered with quiet.”
The morning after the IDF inaugurated Protective Edge by striking 50 targets during the night, the IDF’s declared its goal remained the same. “The message to Hamas is clear – a cease-fire without any conditions,” IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Moti Almoz told Israel’s Channel Two, adding, “This is an operation with clear goals and exit points.”
Even the prime minister, who announced on Wednesday that Protective Edge will be expanded, stated that the “operation will continue until the firing [of rockets] on our population has ceased and the quiet returns.”
In other words, Israel will yet again “mow the lawn” or “cut the grass” in Gaza, but it will not root out the weeds or “go to the end.”
When the operation ends, Hamas will remain standing and in control of its terror state.
The murders of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, as well as that of Baruch Mizrahi, all by members of Hamas, and the terror inflicted on the residents of the south will be forgotten.
And when the grass grows too long, the “code red” siren sounds will be heard throughout the south again, and more Israeli citizens will be murdered, and another operation will be required.
If Israel does not go the distance now, as it failed to do in the past, it will in large part be because many seem to believe that Hamas is not an organization made up of mere mortals, which rises and declines based on a variety of military, political and other temporal factors.
Instead, Hamas is seen as a kind of spiritual, ideological or populist force which can never be defeated.
Even if it could, the cost would be too high.
The cycle of “no peace, no war” is all anyone can hope for under that scenario.
Indeed, Hamas is a formidable organization. Hamas’s total strength in an emergency scenario – including its military wing, Izzadin Kassam, its police and other forces – has been estimated at 15,000-16,000 fighters. There are also several thousand other Islamic extremists operating in Gaza who might reinforce Hamas’s numbers.
THE IDF estimates that Hamas possesses a stockpile of 10,000 rockets, which are now being used against Israel.
Hamas has not only embedded itself within the densely packed population of Gaza, but has come to rule it, making it well situated to wage asymmetric warfare.
But there are good reasons to doubt Hamas’s strength.
Izzadin Kassam, representing Hamas’s real military strength, numbers only approximately 2,000-2,500 fighters. The other forces, like the thousands of police officers experienced in enforcing Hamas rule, are not necessarily trained for combat.
Hamas also has little ability to counter IAF aerial bombardment.
The most it can do is launch retaliatory rockets against Israel. While the recent rocket attacks have penetrated deeper into Israel than ever before, the damage caused to human life and property hardly matched Hamas’ vows of revenge.
Hamas’ past performance in combat against the IDF has also been dismal. A study published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy following Operation Cast Lead cited the desertion of posts by Hamas fighters, the fighters’ lack of combat experience and the disparity of capabilities and intelligence between Hamas forces and the IDF. In total, five IDF soldiers were killed in combat in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, versus the 709 terrorists killed by the IDF.
The authors of the study, one a Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) veteran and the other a former US intelligence analyst, concluded that “Hamas had planned to stand and fight, but the Kassam Brigades proved unequal to the task.”
In addition, Hamas might now be at its weakest.
Unlike ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, or Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas is confined to a small territory, sandwiched between two opponents – Israel and Abdel Fattah Sisi’s Egypt. Egypt is engaged in a war against the Muslim Brotherhood, and considers Hamas to be part of it. As of March this year, Egypt claimed to have destroyed 1,370 smuggling tunnels between its territory and Gaza. The destruction of the tunnels has contributed to a financial crisis for the Hamas government, with the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes on Egyptian imports. Hamas has also lost the support of the Assad regime in Syria and only recently reestablished ties with Iran.
No, Hamas are not the giants our ancestors imagined awaited them in Canaan. They are men of flesh and blood whom the IDF has proven adept at killing time and again. In the words of Caleb Ben-Yephuneh, the biblical spy who attempted to allay the Israelites’ fears, “they are our bread.”
Hamas and the other terrorists of Gaza have nevertheless themselves proven adept at killing our citizens and at expanding their ability to do so. The firing of a rocket some 110 kilometers from Gaza is a reminder of that.
If we yet again leave Hamas and the other terror organizations of Gaza intact, not only will they continue to murder and terrorize us, but there may come a time when Hamas regains its strategic footing, rebuilds its alliances and finds new allies, and poses a much greater threat than it ever has before.
The author is an attorney and a Likud Central Committee member.